DR NICK COATSWORTH:
Good afternoon. Dr Nick Coatsworth with today’s update on coronavirus disease across the nation. The total number of cases diagnosed so far of COVID-19 is 20,698 with 475 newly confirmed cases to 12 noon today. In New South Wales there were nine new cases, two were overseas acquired, four were locally acquired and contacts of a confirmed case, and three were locally acquired, contact has not yet been identified and they are still under investigation. Victoria today reported 466 new cases, 24 locally acquired and contacts of a confirmed case and 442 remain under investigation.
The total number of people who've died in Australia to date of COVID-19 is 278, and 12 new deaths occurred to 12 noon today. There are 8100 active cases, 659 people are hospitalised with COVID-19 and 53 of those are in intensive care.
I wanted to reflect again today on the extent of the Commonwealth support to Victoria. Indeed, the support that we're giving is very, very wide ranging and there is an open book of support for our colleagues down in Victoria. But one of the specific things I saw today when I went from my office in Scarborough house down here, I'm on the same floor as the contact tracers who are assisting with the Victorian response.
Over the past week I've had a number of discussions with some of our most senior epidemiologists in the country who are supporting Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and their Epidemic Intelligence Unit down there. I've spoken directly with my colleagues in Victoria on a number of occasions to push forward an agenda to get more data on healthcare worker infection. On that point in particular, the numbers today regarding the number of healthcare workers and residential aged care workers who have acquired COVID-19 are of significant concern to all of us.
And I wanted to reflect on how that makes people feel when they are going to work in healthcare or a residential aged care setting in that environment. And to do so by means of a personal story I, as some of you will know, worked for Medecins Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders in the 2000s. One of those missions was to the Republic of Sudan, which was a challenging environment then but what it exposed me to was that feeling of constant risk, that feeling of anxiety, of not knowing what the day would hold. or indeed, what personal risk I was going to find myself in. And that takes its toll, of course. We know that that is taking its toll on our colleagues down in Victoria at the moment. I know that feeling of not being able to fall asleep particularly well, of getting up in the morning not feeling at all refreshed in the morning. I know that feeling of concern, moving to anxiety, moving to something that can be constantly there, and stay there for a long time.
And so what I would strongly encourage all Victorians to do, if that is not reason enough to support the stage for restrictions, do everything you possibly can to bring these numbers down, for healthcare workers and residential aged care workers, my colleagues in Victoria, please avail yourself of assistance if you are feeling that way. Whether that is formal assistance, often through your general practitioner - whether it's going the Black Dog Institute and going the TEM(*) website which is a particularly good resources, whether that is talking to colleagues. And if you are a member of a healthcare worker's family, or you are the friend of a healthcare worker, do what I've done this week and just pick up the phone to those who have been and are still on the front line down there, just check in on how they are going. Because I can tell you that from the feedback I've received this week, that is a really, really important intervention, just that one-on-one, showing your support for them. And reminding us again that the best way that we can show healthcare workers in this nation our support is by taking that curve that seems to be flat at the moment and bending it down so we get this epidemic in Victoria under control.
And I think I've got one question on the phone.
Dr Coatsworth, Andrew Greene from the ABC.
Go ahead, Andrew.
Can I just ask, on New South Wales there are nine infections as you say where the source is unknown this week. Why are those cases more concerning than the ones connected to known clusters? And do you believe there could be some complacency creeping in at New South Wales?
Well, any time we see cases that can't be linked to an existing outbreak they create concern because there must, by definition, be something going on in the community that public health authorities aren't aware of. So the way that they try and track things down of course it to look for upstream contacts, so during your contact tracing interview when you're a confirmed case of COVID-19, the public health authorities will ask you've been in contact with in the previous 14 days and that might help identify the chain of transmission. If it doesn't, and there are unknown chains of transmission, that's when the testing comes into its own. And widespread testing in the geographic area around where that person was diagnosed and where they have been, is how you might uncover the chain of transmission. Once you've found that, you can be a lot more comfortable that you know where COVID is, who's got it, and what you are going to do about it.
In terms of complacency, I think we- we all, as Australians, have to have an eye down to Victoria, both in terms of support of course but also in terms of what could happen in our own backyards. And so whilst it's important for people to feel that their lives are back to the new normal, it's critically important that we are not going back to the old normal. Which means that we have to maintain social distancing, that means we have to maintain excellent hygiene, we have to get tested whenever we are unwell with any of those respiratory symptoms - cough, cold, sore throat - all of those things have to be in place.
And to be honest I think, in this day and age, the actual idea of attending multiple venues on one night, people need to reflect on whether that is the right thing to do. You know, we were all 20 once, and there will be people who remain in their 20s after the pandemic, when this is all over we can go back to the old 8-pub pub crawl. But for the moment, I think we need to kind of push- pull back a little bit on our socialising and I think, just remember that when you visit many places in a night that could well be, you may be the person spreading the virus, or you could put yourself at risk of getting it. And I'll take one more if you've got it.
Talking to healthcare workers…
… can I just ask why did the Infection Control Expert Group which advises the government on masks stop short of recommending P2-type masks for healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients?
Well look, I want to just clarify that. The Infection Control Expert Group didn't stop short. The ICEG has reviewed their guidance on P2 N95 masks and broadened it to include situations, largely hospital based situations where the- either the behaviour of the patient is unpredictable or the setting is unpredictable - the patient may deteriorate quickly, the patient may be on high flow oxygen The situation may be in the emergency department were it's not particularly clear who has COVID-19 or who hasn't. So there has been a broad expansion, in fact, of the indications for P2 mask use. And I think it's an appropriate time to reflect on why and how that has come about.
The Infection Control Expert Group is- comprises our leading infection control practitioners across the country, people who have been doing this for decades of their lives. They are the experts in interpreting the evidence, in making policy decisions and recommendations. But they are also the experts in investigating and uncovering why these transmissions may have occurred. And I can tell you that I've been in personal communication with the Victorian Chief Medical Officer in the past weeks and that, amongst other things, has led to a significant change in Victoria's P2 N95 masks policy, and the expansion of P2 N95 use that ICEG has recommended as of yesterday came through direct discussions between the Chair of ICEG, senior infection control practitioners in Victoria, and on the ground infectious disease physicians who had investigated certain transmission events, certain healthcare worker cases where standard guideline based and surgical masks PPE was used. So this has been a direct result of on the ground frontline communication to ICEG and that's why the adjustment has occurred.
And I think we might wrap up therefore today. Thanks very much.